Yes, you read it right – Ramen Street! Top eight were invited to open their shops serving heavenly bowls of noodles at one of the most central and convenient intersections of the entire city, Tokyo Station. There’s arguably no better or more concentrated single location for ramen in Tokyo. So probably you won’t be surprised if I say that it was one of the first things Mr. B and I checked out during our first couple of weeks in town. An important thing to know is that Ramen Street is not literally a street, but a corridor full of ramen shops all in a row amidst the labyrinth of passageways, shops, and restaurants that comprise the Grand Central Station-like Tokyo Station. It might be a bit hard to find on your first visit (or second, or third…) as the station is huge and is a bit of a maze. Look for exits pointing to the Yaesu Central Exit. Once you exit, turn right. Once you arrive, it might be hard to decide which one to opt for. Each of these eight restaurants offers their own twist on this traditional Japanese dish. I did a preliminary research and Rokurinsha (sign only in English) was named number one for their tsukemen, so we decided to try it out. When we finally found THE street it was not hard to spot the most popular ramen shop as it had a long line outside wrapping around the entire restaurant. In general, there is one sacred formula that never disappoints in Japan: long line + restaurant = delicious food! A usual wait time is 20-30 mins, but during peak lunch/dinner time it can be up to an hour if not more. Japanese people absolutely adore their ramen and are very willing to patiently wait in long, organized lines in order to partake in this soul-satisfying hot bowl of noodles. We were ushered inside after about a 20-minute wait. Once it’s time to be seated you have to purchase a ticket at the automated ticket vending machine. The machines are only written in Japanese, but don’t get discouraged. Many of the buttons have corresponding images of the food available. They also have certain buttons marked as ‘most popular!’ or ‘No. 1!’, so if in doubt you can always choose one of those. That’s my strategy, especially when visiting a place for the first time – you want to try the best Chef has to offer anyway! The staff is there to help you out too (even if their English is usually limited). The prices are quite reasonable, with most bowls being somewhere around 850-1100 yen range (about $8-$10), which makes for an affordable lunch or dinner meal. After selecting your meal of choice, a ticket will be dispensed from the machine, which you will then hand to one of the wait staff. After you are seated, you don’t wait that long before beautiful, hot piping bowls of noodles appear right in front of you. As I mentioned above, Rokurinsha specializes in tsukemen, or dipping noodles. You get your noodles and broth separately, and then you just dip the noodles into the soup, which can be a clumsy affair. They give you bibs to make sure you stay tidy after your lengthy session of dipping and slurping! Even though the noodles are not freshly made on site, the texture was still excellent. They were cool, super thick, very chewy, and really fun to eat. With a light yellow, eggy hue, they are substantial and filling. But the star of the show is considered to be the gorgeously thick broth. A blend of tonkotsu (pork bones), fish (mackerel and sardines) and vegetables is slowly simmered for 13 hours. This results in a deeply flavorful broth that’s brimming with umami. A pile of ground katsuobushi (dried smoked bonito flakes) on top add even more umami so if you are fan of this flavor, your taste-buds will certainly explode from excitement. I personally found it a bit too complex. The shredded pork however was absolutely delectable.
The soy-marinated egg is boiled just the right amount to retain that soft, almost gelatinous brilliantly golden yolk. Here I’ve dipped some of my noodles into my broth. Feel free to join the symphony of noodle slurping to get all the goodness in each bowl. It’s perfectly OK to make slurping sounds while eating your noodles in Japan. In fact, Japanese Chefs pay a lot of attention to your reactions to the food they served you and I have had cases were they were looking at me in anticipation of a comment. Oishii (delicious) is as much as I am currently able to offer due to my limited Japanese skills, but that always brings a happy smile on their face. So, yeah, slurp away! It shows that you are really enjoying your noodles.
Once you finish your noodles, a worker will approach and ask about adding your choice of soups to your bowl. Both contain fish broth, and I recommend asking for the one with yuzu in it, as the citrus flavor plays nicely off of the fishy flavor.
Overall, I savored our deeply flavorful lunch, but the abundance of fishy umami didn’t seem to hit the spot.
They also sell takeaway packs for Rokurinsha ramen at home. So if you loved your bowl of tsukemen you can try making ramen at home with their packaged noodles + dried soup base! Ramen street is a real dream-come-true for any ramen-lover and it must be on any visitor’s list. I will keep returning to try other shops so that eventually I am able to compare and pick my personal favorites. Needless to say, I will be sharing my “slurpy adventures” with you along the way!